The Unkillable Genre

David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018)

Editors and contributors at Slant Magazine, one of the finest founts of online criticism since its launch in 2001, have drawn up an annotated list of the fifty “Greatest Horror Movies” of the twenty-first century—so far. Introducing the list, Budd Wilkins argues that the genre has retained its “power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies.”

Topping the list is a film that opened in Japan at the dawn of the millennium, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, not only “one of cinema’s most unnerving and suggestive ghost stories,” as Chuck Bowen calls it, but also a relatively early alert to the soul-sucking power of virtual communities. When, in the late spring of 2001, Pulse screened in the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes, there was still no Facebook (launched in 2004), Twitter (2006), or Instagram (2010). As the laws of the movie business would have it, an American remake followed, trailed by two straight-to-DVD sequels. This sort of cheapening of an original vision is especially common in horror, and yet the genre perseveres. “For every eviscerated remake or toothless throwback,” writes Wilkins, “there’s a startlingly fresh take on the genre’s most time-honored tropes.”

Though they may be rare, some remakes and sequels actually do aim to do more than simply cash in on sheer name recognition. In a survey for the Ringer earlier this month of twenty-first century remakes of horror films from the 1970s and ’80s, both the good and the rotten, Keith Phipps suggests that Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) is a special case in that it “works as a kind of mirror image” to John Carpenter’s 1978 original. And Zombie’s sequel, Halloween II (2009), comes in at #7 on Slant’s list. Editor Ed Gonzalez argues that if Carpenter’s serial killer, Mike Myers, was “almost a phantom presence,” Zombie has made him “unmistakably and chillingly real.” Not counting Zombie’s two entries in the franchise, there have been seven other sequels, and this year sees an all-new, Carpenter-approved Halloween that ignores them all, wiping the slate clean to pick up the original story forty years on.


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